THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (2001)
It feels almost like cheating to include this moment among my favorites scenes as it has already appeared on countless lists of great musical moments, but as it is the scene that motivated this feature, it cannot be denied. This moment between Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Richie (Luke Wilson) is where the film really seems to begin. Great performance from Gene Hackman aside, the tenderness between these star-crossed siblings is what really resonates for me.
At this point in the film we have already met Margot, and yet as she stands in the breeze and silence after getting off that bus, we are aware that we had not truly seen her until this moment with the hardness of her face melting, her eyes alight. The editing matching Nico's "These Days" with that fantastic and hopeful slow-motion walk to Richie (whose kind eyes are burning bright behind his many layers) feels deliberately open, like a breath of fresh air, if I may be so trite. It is simple and brief, but tells us everything we need to know about these characters, expresses infinite sadness and hope within the lyrics of that song and Nico's soulful voice, and is filmed brightly. This is a case where slow-motion is absolutely manipulating our emotions and reading of the characters, but somehow feels like the only choice possible. A perfect marriage of song and image.
And a note about that song: when I was in college I worked at a Taco Time with a very smart, very lazy boy I found adorable. He was the only person I knew who had seen this movie and during a great discussion of its merits, he compared the child prodigies of the film to the characters in JD Salinger's many tales of the Glass family. I thought he was a genius. I shared with him my love of this scene and this song, which he of course knew was written by Jackson Brown and recorded by Nico during the Andy Warhol/Velvet Underground years of the 1960's. I was hanging out at his house a few weeks later, the first flutters of a crush queasing in my stomach, when this boy, without reminder or request, got up and put "These Days" on the record player. Just because he knew I liked it. And the first real romantic love I had ever felt was cemented. It was a disastrous crush, placed on an overall unworthy recipient, but I remember it fondly, especially when I hear this song and see this movie. (Also, the final lines, "please don't confront me with my failures / I had not forgotten them" absolutely gut me.)
P.S. I'm starting to notice that all my favorite scene entries (and the nominees list going on my notepad) are oriented around a song or score I really like. It will apparently always be about the music.